Since T.J. McConnell’s departure at the end of the 2014-15 season, the Arizona Wildcats have struggled to find high-quality point guard play.
Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright ran the offense the past two seasons and the results were mixed.
Allen was the team’s best perimeter defender and averaged 9.1 points per game, but he was not a natural distributor, tallying just 3.3 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.67
Jackson-Cartwright has shot the ball well (39.8 percent from 3) and compiled a respectable assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.73 on 3.7 assists per game, but struggles to score (5.5 PPG) and has a limited impact on defense due to his 5-foot-8 frame.
Arizona won just two NCAA Tournament games in the past two years, and the team’s point guard play is often the target of the blame.
And even though expectations are sky-high for the Wildcats in 2017-18, the position remains a question mark.
They have options, though.
Sean Miller said Monday that Arizona has “three to four” players who can play point guard with Jackson-Cartwright, a rising senior, being the No. 1 option.
“He’s working really hard,” Miller said of Jackson-Cartwright, “and I’ve seen it four or five times in the last six seasons where you have that junior becoming a senior and you can just see it in them that they’re going to have a great offseason and they’re going to be a meaningful, better improved player as a senior than they were a year earlier. Kadeem Allen was that a year ago and I believe Parker will follow that.”
That would require Jackson-Cartwright to stay healthy. He missed six games with a high ankle sprain last season and missed some time as a freshman with a concussion.
“I’m hoping that he can get a year of health from start to finish,” Miller said.
Part of Miller’s optimism is rooted in how Jackson-Cartwright finished his junior season.
In Pac-12 play, Jackson-Cartwright shot 48.6 percent from 3 in Pac-12 play with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.83. In the NCAA Tournament, he averaged 5.3 points while tallying 10 assists to three turnovers.
In total, Jackson-Cartwright posted an offensive rating of 120 as a junior, nearly seven points better than Arizona’s offensive rating as a team.
“It’s nice to have somebody who’s returning as an upperclassman who has already done that,” Miller said. “I think he has one more level he can be at as a player and we’re talking to him everyday about getting to that level.”
The other options
Miller listed Allonzo Trier and incoming recruits Alex Barcello and Emmanuel Akot as the other options to split time at point guard with Jackson-Cartwright.
Trier, Arizona’s leading scorer, averaged 2.7 assists per game last season.
“Allonzo Trier can slide over there as a veteran, somebody who continues to work to become adept at passing and scoring,” Miller said
“The thing about Allonzo is he has a total command of our system and he’s a great free throw shooter. A lot of times you want the ball in guys like that’s hands.”
Barcello, a four-star recruit, is a playmaking guard with the ability to play off the ball and Miller even compared him to McConnell in November.
“He has a fire inside him and a toughness, a love of the game, at the (point guard) position that you love to have. (We’re) really elated to have him,” Miller said.
“The other thing we love about Alex is in addition to his playmaking skills he can really shoot the 3.”
Akot, a five-star recruit who was originally part of the 2018 class, stands at 6-foot-7, but Miller said he’s an adept passer.
“He’s one of the best passers his size that I’ve seen,” he said.
Miller did not mention UNC Asheville transfer Dylan Smith, so he does not appear to be an option at point guard.
The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 13.5 points per game in his lone season with the Bulldogs, but had more turnovers (88) than assists (63).
“Depth-wise, it will work itself out,” Miller said. “You can’t play four guys at the position. I think the two best will be there and we’ll go from there."
You can follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire